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Old rifles can be interesting...

By Mark Wheeler

I must confess a liking for older rifles with a bit of history, especially if some of their back story can be traced. This item is a case in point.

 

At first glance it's a sporterised old Martini-Enfield but, it's much more than that. The rifle began life in 1880 as a Class 1 Martini-Henry Mk II rifle in calibre .577/450. The designation is indistinct on the receiver but clear on the butt. At the time of issue it was a front-line weapon (the 1 below the II reveals this) and would have served with British forces somewhere in the Empire.

 

The two arrows point to point are the “sold out of service” marks and would have been applied at the end of its military career which would have been sometime after 1906. The same mark appears on the receiver and barrel, although the barrel mark is partly obscured.

 

The “sold out of service” marks (Top right) have been etched into the timber stock.

 

In 1895 it was converted to a Martini-Enfield by removing the original .45 cal barrel and refitting it with a rifled .303 barrel. The crown and arrow are the inspector’s acceptance marks. It was a Mk I Enfield rifle; i.e. a rifle with a barrel length of 30.2 inches. Once again it would have been frontline issue.

 

In 1898 as part of a consignment sent to New Zealand it was accepted into service (98 marked on the front of the receiver), and was the 47th rifle accepted (47 on the rear of receiver).

 

“At first glance it's a sporterised old Martini-Enfield but, it's much more than that. The rifle began life in 1880 as a Class 1 Martini-Henry Mk II rifle in calibre .577/450.

 

There were over 4000 rifles bought by New Zealand between 1898 and 1901. Some served in South Africa, but most were for training, volunteer units (Territorials) or cadet force use within New Zealand.

 

It was impressed into the Home Guard during WWII and both receiver and fore-wood are marked HG 8, which was New Plymouth. The 1775 is its Home Guard number.

 

Along with many other markings, you can see the number 1775 (Bottom left) which is the New Zealand Home Guard number. There are also “sold out of service” arrow marks in both the bottom two images.

 

There is a “sold out of service” mark visible above the Home Guard marks and the serial number of the barrel is just visible on the Knox form.

 

Now it gets interesting. Those of you familiar with the Martini-Enfield may have noticed something not quite right about the sight, that's because the barrel is not a Martini one. It's from a No.1 Mk III SMLE and is dated 1916 with inspectors and proof marks from Birmingham.

 

The barrel's number (5095) is not stamped on the receiver, nor are armourers or inspectors marks associated with a rebarrelling. This plus the damage to the Knox form, plus a few other things, indicate that the replacement was done after the rifle's service career ended.

 

The barrel was bedded in using an old newspaper. Judging from the ads this may have been done in 1947.

 

The fore-wood is from a Martini-Enfield and has been cut to accommodate the SMLE rear sight. It's been shortened but a Martini nose cap was refitted. The bayonet lug has also been cut off.

 

Removing the fore-wood shows that the action has been shimmed using newspaper, a common bush gunsmith's method! Based on the advertisements in the paper, which is probably from Hawkes Bay, the job could have been done there. Tantalisingly the date February 19 appears on one piece of the paper, but no year.

  

However, I did find part of an advertisement for a new film, “Abie's Irish Rose”. This was released in the States in December 1946 and would have reached New Zealand the following year. This dates the rebarrelling to 1947 at the earliest.

 

The upward angle on the right hand side of the extractor cut is what's left of the SMLE extractor groove.

 

To fit the SMLE barrel, modifications to the breech end of the barrel would have been needed. The photo shows an upward angle on the right hand side of the extractor cut which is the remains of the SMLE extractor groove.

  

The barrel would have been shortened at the breech to accommodate the extractor and this would have shortened the chamber meaning that it would have had to be re-cut. The job was not done overly well as to raise the block some tapping of the lever is required and the extracted cases have major scrape marks.

 

LEFT: The fired case (left) shows the “interesting” way the old rifle was rechambered. At right is a standard case. RIGHT: An off-centre firing pin indent, but the rifle still fires...!

 

Also the rechambering is rather interesting. The photo shows a round fired in the rifle compared to one fired in a “normal” Martini-Enfield on the right.

 

The recoil can only be described as “rather noticeable” and looking at the fired case I think you can see why. The rifle has been fitted with an aperture sight, which was likely done when it passed into private hands. The sight is unusual in that it is marked with a NZ patent number but to date I have not found any details of the patent.

 

The aperture sight is stamped with a NZ patent number.

 

Also, the service tangent sight gets in the way of the view through the aperture and vice versa at close ranges, rendering it not all that much use.

 

Significant ingenuity has gone into the rebarrelling of this rifle and I cannot guess at the reason given that a glut of ex- Home Guard and Defence Rifle Club rifles were available at the time.

 

Old service rifles are full of history, most of which is recorded on them in the form of various stamps and markings. So have a look at that old guy in the safe, chances are it has a pretty interesting story to tell.

 

Mark

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